Olive Garden Names mcgarrybowen AOR

By Erik Oster 

Olive Garden has selected mcgarrybowen as its new agency of record, concluding a review launched in July, Adweek reports. The incumbent on the account, Grey, who had been the brand’s agency of record since 1986, or nearly 30 years, defended in the review. Olive Garden spent $155 million on measured media last year, according to Kantar Media.

“Though we met with immensely talented agencies, McGarryBowen’s proven track record of creatively bringing brands to life across multiple channels within the retail and hospitality industries makes them the ideal partner,” Olive Garden executive vice president, marketing Jose Duenas said in a statement. “We’re excited to work with McGarryBowen to continue to build the Olive Garden brand and showcase what we are best known for — bringing families together over craveable Italian food — in new and exciting ways.”

For mcgarrybowen, the news follows closely on the heels of being named AOR for JCPenney earlier in the month. The recent account wins should help the agency recover after it lost lead status on the Verizon account earlier this year,  lost its Chase account to Droga5 this summer and departed with Chicago president Tim Scott, who  left the agency this spring for a position as senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Land O’Lakes. Mcgarrybowen also just named Matthew Bull as chief creative officer of its New York office


While the news means the loss of a longtime client for Grey, the agency will continue to work with fellow Darden brand LongHorn.

“We respect Olive Garden’s desire to try something new and wish them nothing but success on their future journey,” said Grey North America CEO Michael Houston, in a statement. “We remain a member of the Darden family as we continue to build the LongHorn brand, its second largest and fastest growing.”

Here’s the full internal memo from Houston:

Olive Garden and Grey found each other in 1986. Olive Garden was a tiny restaurant chain with big dreams. Grey was an agency looking to break new ground in the food category. Together over the next decade, we introduced much of America to Italian food and in 1988, we coined the word “Hospitaliano,” putting Olive Garden on a course for uninterrupted growth quarter after quarter for almost 15 consecutive years. In our three decades together, Olive Garden has grown from four restaurants to more than 800. We’ve weathered multiple recessions, yet we always bounced back stronger than before. Fast forward to 2015…

Fifteen days ago a team of ten of us hopped into a big black van at Darden’s corporate headquarters and headed to the Orlando airport. We had just finished presenting our pitch work to twelve Olive Garden clients and we were high with post-meeting adrenaline. Our work was so good and emotional that we literally brought multiple clients to tears in the meeting (remember the one I told you about in SRO featuring the foster kids?).

Once everyone settled into their seats, I turned to our crew and said, “Win, lose or draw, this pitch has been a huge victory for the agency. Today we gave them one of the most comprehensive, smart and inspired plans that the OG brand has ever witnessed. Regardless of outcome, we can all feel proud of ourselves and the Agency because we’ve honestly given them everything we have to give.”

Naturally, as I waxed poetic in the back of the van, I was hopeful that we would be the victors. But sadly that would not be the case. Today we learned that Olive Garden has decided to engage another agency and we will be ending our decades-long relationship at the end of this year.

We are disappointed with this outcome; however, we respect Olive Garden’s desire to try something new and wish them nothing but success on their future journey. We will remain a member of the Darden family as we will continue to work on LongHorn Steakhouse, its second largest and fastest-growing brand.

I meant what I said in the van. We have every right to be proud of what we did for Olive Garden…proud of our pitch work and proud of our 30 years together.

Thanks to everyone who touched this business since the pitch began in July and thank you to all the people who have touched this brand over the past three decades.

All in all, 2015 has been another banner year for Grey and it’s not over yet. Onward.

Michael Houston
CEO, Grey North America